Super senior to the rescue

Kate Bigam

This fall marks the beginning of my “super senior” year. That’s right, folks, I’m headed into my fifth year of college, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Or am I?

I graduated from high school in 2002, when this year’s incoming freshmen were still living it up in eighth grade. These days, I can look at the Facebook profiles of the kids I grew up with and, usually, I’m faced with “[insert college here] ’06 Alum.” Nothing makes you feel like you’re a step behind the gang like seeing your kindergarten best friend is married and working as a registered nurse in Orlando.

But according to a 2004 national study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, significantly fewer students now complete college in four years than they did a decade ago.

So how do students like me end up on the half-decade plan? There are a number of ways it can happen. Transferring schools can extend the length of time it takes a student to graduate if all of his or her credits don’t transfer properly. Other students, forced to take time off due to personal hardship, may find themselves taking even longer than five years to make it out of school. Finally, neglecting to properly manage class scheduling can put a student behind when she discovers she needs two more language classes instead of the two history classes she just took.

I like to refer to my fifth year in college as the $5,000 mistake, although you could consider me lucky, since I don’t live on campus and therefore don’t pay room and board fees, which may send some students’ one-year debt as high as $20,000. Regardless of how much you pay per year, by the fifth year of school, students have increased their overall student loans total by a whopping 20 percent.

So what are we doing wrong? If administrators are doing all they can to help students graduate in the storybook-perfect four years, as they claim, then why are so many students still in school by the five-year mark?

Unfortunately, many students don’t realize how far behind they are until their junior year. By this time, mistakes are set in stone, and sometimes even a crushing load of summer classes can’t soften the blow.

Because of this, effective schedule management during freshman and sophomore year is crucial if you want to make it out of this place in four years. Take advantage of your academic adviser and plan your schedule carefully. It may be tempting to take bowling, but do you really need it? And is one semester of belly dancing worth an extra semester spent in college?

So the moral of my story is this, underclassmen: Don’t screw around with your education. $20,000 is a high price to pay for failing classes, taking blow-off classes or simply not attending classes. Don’t end up like me if you don’t have to.

As for those of us already in our fifth year? We’re not out in the real world yet, and, as much as we think we’d like to be, that’s probably a small blessing. It’s scary out there! Let’s take advantage of the extra time, and enjoy our college days while they last.

And, hey: Doesn’t “super senior” make us sound like superheroes or something?

Kate Bigam is a fifth-year senior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].